SENIOR citizens often fall victim to predatory opportunists out to con them.
They are likely to be very vulnerable when it comes to high-value transactions such as real estate, where a deal can run into millions of dollars.
Last month, an ex-property agent went on trial for allegedly misappropriating more than $500,000 of his visually impaired elderly client's money.
The client apparently signed some cheques and entrusted the agent with the money, believing that it was needed to facilitate the sale of his condominium unit and the purchase of a smaller flat.
Fraud is not the only worry for the elderly. Retired home owners wishing to earn extra income by leasing out a room also have to watch out for rental scams.
For instance, their agents may try to collect rent from their tenants and keep the money for themselves instead of passing it to the landlords.
To prevent seniors from being duped, the Council for Estate Agencies (CEA) wants to arm them with basic tips and tools on what to do in a property deal.
CEA, which tracks the number of complaints lodged against errant agents, logged 880 cases for its latest financial year from April 2012 to March 2013.
There is no comparable figure to see whether there is a rising trend of complaints. CEA was set up in October 2010 and it combined the number of complaints for the period from October 2010 to March 2012, taking the 18-month total to 1,656.
It is not just fraud that seniors have to be wary of, as those cases make up just 1 per cent of complaints in the last financial year.
Unprofessional behaviour or poor service from agents constituted 29 per cent of the cases, while 16 per cent of cases pertain to misconduct such as the use of threatening words or harassment.
To highlight the potential pitfalls and educate seniors, CEA is taking part in this year's "50 Plus Expo", an event targeted at seniors to help them live well.
Ms Koh Pek Hoon, deputy director for public outreach at CEA, told The Sunday Times: "At the expo, we hope to educate the seniors on the responsibilities of the sales staff and their rights as consumers in order to safeguard their interests."
One important piece of advice is that seniors should not hand transaction money to the agents but rather to the companies they work for.
Other tips that CEA will dish out include getting seniors to check whether their agents are registered and checking out the market to negotiate the commission rate before signing any agreement.
The "50 Plus Expo" will be held from March 28 to 30 at Suntec Singapore Convention & Exhibition Centre.
This story was originally published in The Straits Times on March 23, 2014.